The Myth of Scrolling
BY Jessylyn Los Banos
Do Users Still Scroll?
There is an age-old myth that scrolling is bad user experience. People do not like to scroll. Users simply do not scroll past “the fold” of a website. With this notion in mind, designers try to keep web pages short. However, this myth no longer rings true. In fact, it is completely natural for users to scroll through a website.
So where did this “users don’t scroll” myth come from?
The concept that people do not scroll was initially borrowed from the newspaper print industry. In order to spark the interest of potential readers, newspapers would place their most attention-grabbing headline story, photo or graphic “above the fold.”
This same concept was then adapted for the web in the nineties. In the early days of the internet, users were limited to small desktop computers and one screen size, and they were generally clueless about the technicalities of web browsing. Back then, popular websites like AOL crammed nearly everything above the digital fold of their web pages. As a result, users became accustomed to viewing content “above the fold” and clicking buttons and links to view new pages of content.
Fast forward to today’s current technological environment, and much has changed. The internet has greatly evolved and so have its users. People are much more accustomed to reading long pages and are no longer limited to one screen size.
Mobile use has surpassed the desktop use with nearly 60 percent of online searches coming from mobile devices. Once smartphones and tablets were introduced into the market, the old concept of the “fold” became obsolete — the dimensions of the digital “fold” were now inconsistent across devices.
The growth of responsive design was another big factor in normalizing scrolling as a user behavior. With the introduction of touch-screen technology, the average mobile user was able to seamlessly scroll through websites. As touch-screen technology dominated the market, people naturally scrolled on these devices, and those browsing behavioral habits transferred onto desktop use.
The design agency Huge conducted various tests for usability and found that “participants almost always scrolled regardless of how they were cued to do so.” ClickTale, a data analytics provider, discovered that “people used the scrollbar on 76 percent of all pages, with 22 percent scrolling all the way to the bottom” after analyzing 10,000 page views.
Even Apple recognized how much people were scrolling and chose to remove the scroll bar from their Mac OS X in July 2011. So, yes people do scroll. What does this mean for the modern web designer?
Is the Digital “Fold” Still Relevant?
Gone are the days where web page designers would squeeze as much content into the top of a website as they could. But that is not to say that the space above the fold is not important. According to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, “people do scroll vertically more than they used to, but new eye tracking data shows that [users] will still look more above the page fold than below it”.
Based on their data, about 57 percent of users’ page-viewing time was spent above the fold, and 74 percent of viewing time was spent in the first two screenfuls, up to 2160 px. People still spend a good amount of attention and viewing-time above the fold. If you want to get the results you want, such as improved conversion rates or more impressions, you need to utilize the fold wisely.
Based on its data, the Nielsen Norman Group realized that the closer a piece of content is to the top of a web page, the more likely it will be read. On a web page with ill-structured content, users tended to browse a website in an F-pattern shape. Users would thoroughly pay more attention to text placed close to the top of a web page, and paid less time and attention to information lower on the page. People are scanners by nature and desire to exert less mental effort to reach the information they view as important. By that logic, placing key content closer to the top of the page and comprehensive visual cues that encourage scrolling is a great way to optimize above the fold.
SEO and the Importance of Scrolling
As a marketing tool, long-form content has been used for years by content marketers to help boost search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. The benefits of long-form web pages are numerous — high visibility online, more social sharing, better link building, boosts in conversion and advances in website authority.
Since long-form content pages are by definition lengthy, designers should use visual cues that encourage seamless scrolling based on the content and overall design. Does the content feature block text, images or video? How do the visual cues integrate with existing design elements? All these variables will affect the optimum placement and effectiveness of scrolling cues.
Here are some design tips to encourage user scrolling:
Create a clear message with good headlines and sub headings. You want to start off your web page strong with a good introduction to your brand. Offer some immediate insight and place strong visual clues that give visitors a reason to keep reading.
Reserve the top of the page for high-priority content. Since people give most of their attention to content near the top of a web page, save that space for your most compelling points. Use this space for branding, a main navigation menu and primary content, like key firm and user goals.
Use images, subtle animation and white space to keep users engaged and attentive. People's attention spans are increasingly shorter, leading to a tendency to scan through web pages. White space allows users to acquire information much more quickly by adding visual separation to different topics. Images and animation are a great way to highlight important content throughout a website, slow down scanning speed and encourage users to further browse to find the information they seek.
Design and write your content for scanning. People scan, it is unavoidable. Use this to your advantage by incorporating good visual hierarchy. Use appropriate font styling to attract attention to valuable content. Experiment with typography by finding combinations of boldface, italics, underlining and font sizes that work best to lead users through the page. Break up content with lists and bullets, and divide long paragraphs into shorter ones.
Beware of false floors. False floors can fool your users into thinking there is no additional content below the fold of your website. To correct this problem simply place a small amount of content in a grid or card-based system that cuts off above the fold. This will clue in the user to scroll to view the remaining content.
Use navigation tricks. Users can sometimes be frustrated with having to scroll up and down to find content. Using sticky navigation that is always visible is one way to help negate this frustration. Another tactic is having multiple navigation menus such as sidebar page menus or buttons/dots that navigate for the user.
Test your design with a focus group. Adding design elements to encourage scrolling is great, but you want to be sure the users you are targeting are positively receptive to your design. So, test your design frequently.
Conclusion — Scrolling Myth Debunked
Thanks to mobile devices and long-form content, scrolling is no longer taboo. It is true that content above the fold is still significant, but the overall user experience throughout the web page is more important.
With appropriate visual cues, intuitive responsive design and consistent conventional design features, users are more than happy to scroll through a web page, if that action will help them find what they are looking for. User scrolling also allows a designer to explore a plethora of different design techniques to create visual interest.
Ultimately, user experience design is all about understanding user behavior and designing solutions to help make their digital lives easier. Try applying these scrolling cues to your next web design project.
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